This weekend, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Napa, celebrating Lisa’s(@winedivergirl) housewarming.  Since I was staying the night, we had planned to go wine tasting the next day with our friend Brian from The Roger Smith Hotel (@bsimi), who was visiting from New York. When we got going on the rainy winter Sunday, we opted to start with some bubbles, so Lisa took us on over to Domaine Chandon.  Now, I know this winery well.  I have been there many times.  I buy their sparklers int he grocery store – a LOT. 

As we pulled in to the winery, the river passing through the property was a bit wild, which really should have warned us of the impending visit.  As we walked through the retail store, several employees were milling about,  did greet us on entry.  As we made our way upstairs, we saw that while the tasting bar was hopping, it was not busy.  I did see immediately, that there were only 2 employees working the whole bar – which normally would not be surprising, but if you’ve seen this tasting bar, you can easily line up 25 people along the perimeter.

Ok fine, so they were short staffed.  I thought, no problem, there is an opening at the bar, so we’ll side up and look at the menu, assuming the bartender will come by at some point.  And bartender is what they are – Chandon does not offer traditional tastings, but instead offers flights of 2 different sparkling levels, still wines, as well as champagne cocktails.  Having decided on our beverages, we tried to flag down one of the two staff members for assistance.  NO such luck.  We stood.  We waited.  We waited some more.

15 minutes in to this, we mutually decided to high tail it out of there.  Now I know that as an industry rep, a wine blogger, and a hotel beverage manager, we might have high expectations for customers service, but this was just RIDICULOUS.  To not even acknowledge our presence with a simple “I’ll be right with you” set me over the edge. What made this experience worse was that as we walked out, the Chatty Cathys in the retail shop didn’t even say goodbye, or why are you leaving, or anything.  They just ignored us.

Meanwhile, as we headed over to micro winery Elizabeth Spencer, we were fuming.  Inside the tiny tasting room, ev
erything about our day began to change.  We were greeted.  We were smiled at.  We were talked to.  Vanessa INTERACTED with us.  Once she found out we were tradespeople, she asked us about what we did.  She showed me a very cool iPhone app, and she talked to us about the wines.  This experience was so lovely, Lisa even joined the wine club!  I bought a bottle of syrah.  Oh and the wine was delicious!

Feeling redeemed, we even ventured over to Rubicon Estate.  Known for it’s outrageous tasting fees but beautiful grounds, we were at once welcomed by the greeter.  Even after we asked for their trade tasting policy, they treated us as valued guests.  OK< so the guy at the tasting bar was a little stiff, but his coworker truly appreciated my rubber chicken and her escapades.  After Rubicon and some lunch, we made another stop, this time at Miner Family Wines.  While Miner was serviceable, we were basically abandoned after we identified ourselves as members of the trade.  While I realize that many tasting rooms recoup costs by charging for tastings, I feel that $25 is excessive.  If I can avoid paying for a tasting fee by utilizing my connections, that is $25 more i can spend on wine.  Wouldn’t you rather have me buy wine and tell my friends about it then ignore us for the sake of a few bucks that day?

OK now I know they are less likely to get us to buy wine on the first visit, or join the wine club.  But the last time i checked, my American Excess card was just as good as someone else’s.  This is a rookie mistake, because if i were buying for a party or for a hotel, i would certainly not want to buy their wine, based solely on this experience.

Just a note to you winery reps out there – the moral of this story is that one ounce of great service like Elizabeth Spencer, is worth 100 pounds of gold in FREE marketing.  I am telling everyone I know about Elizabeth Spencer, and that they need to go there and talk to Vanessa.  I am also telling everyone to run screaming from Chandon, since you can go to Safeway to get the wines and have a better experience.

Clearly Chandon doesn’t get it.  Clearly Elizabeth Spencer does.  Kudos for the latter for understanding how to treat it’s customers, whether we buy today, tomorrow or not at all.  Apparently, this is somewhat rampant at other established sparkling houses – see Shana’s post on Korbel!




14 thoughts on “Hospitali-teed off!”

  1. Thanks for the feedback! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, as I'll be heading back that way in July.

    I am truly surprised about your experience at Chandon, though. Two summers ago, my fiance' and I visited and had a much different experience. So positive was our time at the tasting bar, that we special ordered two Chandon sparklers (that you can't buy at the grocery) to be served at our wedding reception, where the wines were greatly enjoyed by our guests.

    If you decide to ever try again (not that I would, considering such an experience as you described), hopefully you will be greeted by more clueful staff members. It's a shame when a customer service representative doesn't treat each person as a guest. Glad to see your day turned around!

  2. One bartender should at least be able to pour and take money from at least 40 patrons…can't understand what happened there.
    Wondering if the Miner incident might have had anything to do with the way the tasting room staff is compensated. Perhaps, they get commissions on tasting fees…I don't know. I'm not excusing it, I'm just attempting to highlight the impact that compensation structures can have on service.

  3. As were we Karen! I was truly very disappointing. I will try again, but I've heard the same thing from other sources – which is a pity. I really do like the wine – and I will buy it locally certainly. I just might not spend my money tasting there. Even thought the Blood Orange Mimosas looked HEAVENLY!

    Happy to hear you had a good time though!

  4. Well said Thea! The raging river should have been a warning, that and we forgot the Twisted Oak rubber chicken in the car!
    For the rest of the day we avoided rivers ( except for the ones Lisa drove through ) and we brought the chicken into every tasting !
    Thank you for being part of my first and VERY memorable trip ti Napa!!!
    And once again you are right…

  5. I predict that Oenophilus will be using this post and WineDiverGirl's post as examples in his consulting business. Or he should 😉

  6. Hi Shana,

    I'd like to send you some information about a new affiliate program that Vinfolio has started. Essentially if offers store credit or cash for referrals. Can you send me an email at so I can provide you with more information.


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